The UN in Syria’s Trouble

As the crisis in Syria continues to escalate, many wonder why the international community, specifically the United Nations, is standing by in silence. A UN report puts the casualties of this conflict at above 100,000 deaths, yet we have seen no intervention of any kind by the world peacekeeping force. By observing and reporting, yet failing to act, the United Nations is sending the message that it cannot effectively perform its duties. The structure of the UN has a critical flaw that impedes its ability to act efficiently—its Security Council. Perhaps the most powerful of the UN’s six principal organs, the policies of the Security Council and its permanency system have proved disastrous in the realm of international decision-making. Of the Council’s 15 members, the five permanent nuclear powers are the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia. Due to the structural design of the voting system, where one veto from any of the five permanent members brings down any proposal, the supposed international interests of the United Nations are often overruled and warped by the individual interests of these nuclear powers. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the Security Council has attempted to pass two resolutions with the intention of preventing genocide. Both times, a vast majority of Council’s 15 members have voted to enact each resolution, but powers including Russia and China vetoed any action. Although a new plan from Russia to remove the chemical weapons from Syria recently emerged, the country has its own interests in mind. Thus, by opting to protect their economic interests in the midst of an international crisis, a permanent member such as Russia can override the international opinion and thereby hinder the UN’s ability to act. The United Nations has, however, seen success in its campaign for world peace. From the Korean War to the Gulf War, the organization has initiated successful coalition efforts. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the UN reached an agreement with Khrushchev that resolved the situation, and it was the organization’s unhindered resolve that helped end the Apartheid in South Africa. By way of smaller organizations such as WHO and UNICEF, the latter having already saved the lives of children through immunizations, the United Nations has had a positive impact upon our world. With that said, many of these situations owe their success to the work of individuals outside of the UN. For example, despite contributions from the United Nations, it was the efforts of Secretary General U. Thant and President John F. Kennedy that ultimately defused the Cuban Missile Crisis. Furthermore, when bureaucracy and incompetence have occurred in the midst of the UN’s humanitarian efforts, the ramifications have been nothing short of catastrophic. In 1993, during the Rwandan genocide, the UN failed to acknowledge the warnings of increased tensions between the Hutu and Tutsis and sent non-combative forces to pacify the situation. One year later, following the dismissal of a warning of genocide and the death of several peacekeepers, the U.S. pulled out of Rwanda and the UN continued its ineffective measures, resulting in the deaths of nearly 1,000,000 people over the course of 100 days. In both of these tragedies, the UN inaccurately assessed the situation and thereby failed to carry out its sworn duty. In the situation in Syria where the citizens also face an imminent threat of genocide and chemical weapons, the UN is once again refusing to act. Increased economic sanctions, resolutions to help the refugees and victims of the violence and a united global military front are the only concrete methods to deter Assad’s use of chemical weapons and prevent violence. Whether the UN and its Security Council will recognize that the dereliction of its responsibility in Syria will stand as another black mark on its record remains to be seen. The situation in Syria will not be the last time the UN is tried. Our future will certainly hold more dark times, but that is when the UN must stand up. These are the moments when its actions must meet its motto: “It’s your world!” The United Nations must understand that it is simply not enough to stand for world peace; they must actively pursue it at every turn. I am sure that our leaders at the United Nations do not want their humanitarian failures in Rwanda or Darfur to echo in their inaction for Syria, and this is their chance. This is an opportunity for 193 nations to show truly impressive cooperation and conviction in their mission.